Saturday, October 5, 2013

KISS "Nothin' To Lose" Book Review | Jim Neff

A new chapter has been written in the KISS/Cadillac saga — literally. A just published book, “Nothin’ To Lose: The Making of KISS (9172-1975)” by Ken Sharp with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, features a 22 page chapter devoted entirely to Cadillac. Sharp not only recounts the now legendary rock and roll event, but offers fresh insights and perspectives.

As the main architect of the KISS visit to Cadillac on October 9, 1975, I’ve retold the story countless times in print, online, on the KISSology DVD, and on television, most recently for ESPN. I’m included in this book, but what makes this retelling different from all others is that Sharp has included a wide variety of other voices and their recollections really make the story a far richer account of what happened.

“It was a special experience for me,” Sharp told me. “Growing up I read about this event and it was something I wish I could have attended. Interviewing the people in Cadillac associated with the visit allowed me to relive that time. The Cadillac chapter is one of my favorite chapters in the book.”

What Sharp has done is present an oral history by letting the people associated with KISS tell their stories. This includes not only Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss (the original lineup for the band), but also fans, booking agents, photographers, management, producers, promoters, roadies, and music journalists.

For the Cadillac chapter, titled “Rockin’ in the U.S.A,” several local voices are a part of the commentary. These include: Cadillac High School head football coach Dave Brines, Cadillac High principal John Laurent, CAPS superintendent William Smith, players Dave Laurent, Harry Hagstrom and Bill Barnett, and cheerleader Milissa Codden. Many of their insights have never been chronicled before.

Added to the locals are observations from KISS road crew members Rick Munroe, Mark Stinner and Fritz Postlethwaite, publicist Carol Ross, photographer Fin Costello, and even something from my brother, David, whose band, the Double Yellow Line, opened the concert.

Enhancing this “local flavor,” what the book also does is put the Cadillac event into historical context, something I’ve not seen before. We all think of KISS as this juggernaut that has amassed more than $500 million in licenses and merchandising over the last 35 years. But when they came to Cadillac the band was hemorrhaging money and their management and record company were scrambling just to keep them afloat. They had album sales and a loyal following, but the cost of touring with their massive stage show was daunting, to say the least.

Included in the Cadillac chapter are interviews with people associated with the band at that time. And their comments show how critical the Cadillac visit was to the band’s eventual success. “KISS was recognized by music magazines,” notes Sharp, “but Cadillac put them into the consciousness of the general public on a national scale.”

Carol Ross, vice president of the PR firm Rogers & Cowan: “The Cadillac High event was the breakthrough for mainstream press. When we got Reader’s Digest to do a story on KISS, when we got the mainstream media, that’s when we first solidified their importance.”

Fritz Postlethwaite, audio engineer for KISS: “Cadillac was the beginning of KISS thinking of themselves as successful. I thought I had gone through the looking glass. A town full of people with KISS makeup? The day before I had questioned whether they had more than a handful of fans and then I saw an entire community that looked like them.”

As Sharp observes, “Cadillac was the perfect confluence of promotion and school spirit. What makes the Cadillac event remarkable is that it was a touchstone for the band.”

The KISS/Cadillac connection also turned out to be very special for Cadillac. In presenting the band the key to the city, Superintendent of Cadillac Schools at the time, William Smith said: “I would assure you this, there are a great many people in the community of Cadillac today who have a little different attitude and impression of the young people who were here last night and are here today ... anytime you want to return we would be tickled to have you.”

If there’s an overall theme for this book, it might be what former band manager Lew Linet said: “Gene and Paul are the epitome of American entrepreneurial spirit. They are the epitome of drive, commitment, and persistence.”

Sharp emphasizes this in the book’s closing lines: “Finally making it in the rock-and-roll big leagues — and on their own terms — was a sweet hard-fought victory KISS will never forget. And it all started with four guys who had nothin’ to lose.”

Being such an integral part of this saga is why Cadillac continues to be so revered by rock and roll music fans worldwide.